A federal judge has ruled that the trial of Austin attorney Marc G. Rosenthal should be moved from Cameron County to Corpus Christi. The prosecution argued that Rosenthal has conducted publicity stunts that could taint the jury pool in Cameron County; his attorney maintains Rosenthal is merely exercising his constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen unexpectedly moved the upcoming Feb. 4 trial from Brownsville during a hearing in federal court in Brownsville. He also cautioned both the defense and the government that he expected everyone to act professionally, and directed them not to conduct press conferences, advertisements or attempt to sway the jury pool.
The trial is expected to last through Feb. 28, although there will be long weekend breaks.
Rosenthal is charged in a 13-count indictment with numerous offenses, stemming from the investigation into ex-404th District Judge Abel C. Limas’ racketeering and bribery scheme. Rosenthal has pleaded not guilty. Limas has pleaded guilty to racketeering, and his sentencing is slated for next year.
Before the ruling, Assistant U.S. Attorney Oscar Ponce spoke of a rendering of Rosenthal dressed in a superhero outfit by the banks of the Rio Grande protecting people, and calling himself their guardian — “El Guardian de los Paisanos” — as a Border Patrol agent aimed a rifle at them.
Ponce described the rendering, which appears on Facebook, as disturbing and reprehensible; “that might well sway the pool.”
Ponce also spoke about a barrage of ads that recently hit the radio airwaves touting that Rosenthal would be making a $1 million donation at a telethon. Ponce also showed a television video-recording of Rosenthal at a Christmas telethon in Houston held by the affiliate of a Spanish-language network where it was said that he had donated $1 million on behalf of Cameron County and Southmost (which is an area of Brownsville) to benefit children with disabilities, autism and cancer.
“It wasn’t even a million dollars,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Wynne told the court. Ponce noted that the donation had been for $10,000 instead.
Ponce said that Rosenthal’s actions, just six weeks before his trial, were couched in helping the public, but instead were meant to sway public opinion.
Ponce said Rosenthal seeks to gain advantage one way or another, which is consistent with Rosenthal’s characteristics.
Rosenthal’s attorney Ernesto Gamez countered that Rosenthal has the basic right afforded by the First Amendment and added that the State Bar of Texas also allows attorneys to advertise. Insofar as Rosenthal’s donation, “it’s his money,” Gamez said, adding that the $10,000 was donated up front to the $1 million that had been pledged.
Gamez rebutted that Rosenthal has donated, “hundreds of thousands to charity,” and said that the U.S. government was harping everything that Rosenthal does.
Gamez also told Hanen that the one newspaper article that he had recently raised in court had been the one that contained positive publicity for Rosenthal, but had been one among multiple negative articles about his client.
In other business before the court, Ponce also told Hanen that Rosenthal had been drinking at a bar recently, contrary to stipulations of his bond.
Hanen did not revoke Rosenthal’s bond, but instructed him not to drink in public at all.
Several motions are pending and another hearing will be held in early January.